blog post #56 by Science Fiction Author Clara Bush
There is much information on the web telling us how to find a professional book editor, but not much information on what you might encounter once you have selected one.
I have been self publishing for less than a year and have already sampled four different types of editors. As I said in last Wednesday’s Writer Spider Street Fighter blog post #54, they are not all created equal, nor are their editing practices similar in any way.
I hope that by sharing my experience, you can avoid some of my pitfalls and find your one true god-editor. God you question? Believe me when you find the right one—the one who merges with your style of writing—you will consider her (or him) a god.
I know some of you are going, “Pssah, I don’t need a professional editor. I have my spouse…” Or BBF, or ninety-year old grandma who used to teach English. Most successful writers would argue with your premise. To be a professional writer, one must do what it takes to be a professional, and generally that means hiring a professional editor.
We all know the days are gone when a writer sends in her manuscript, gets picked up by one of the publishing houses, and the manuscript is edited in house as part of the deal. In these time, you best not be sending in a manuscript to a publisher or agent unless it is scrubbed clean of errors. And this holds doubly true for self-publishing. Nothing will cause you to lose fans faster than an eBook loaded with unforgivable errors. (I know, I did one. And I’m still trying to clean up the ramifications.)
I—being a self-diagnosed, mild dyslexic who mixes up bs and ds, can’t spell worth a darn, and still has trouble knowing when to use a comma—decided after my first published fiasco that I definitely needed a professional editor.
For those of you who are saying, “I don’t have the money.” I promise you that when you find the right editor, you will learn so much from her first edit it’s the equivalent to an entire semester in college, and definitely more constructive than any writing workshop offered. Because, it is YOUR work the editor is focused in on, noting your mistakes, and correcting your style.
I can’t stress enough how much you will grow as a writer with your first professional edit—even if it’s a bad one.
My Four Editors
And What I Learned
Editor #1 will be referred to as Big House.
If you go with a Big House, ask for the editor with the most experience, or at least one with some experience.
Editor #2 will be referred to as The Angel.
- It was color coded.
- I had to have a two page editing key to follow the color codes and all this editor’s random abbreviations like: A for awkward, R for redundant, T for Thesaurus, U for Usage, CS for complete sentence, SAP for same as previous, SF for Sentence Fragment.
- Things marked in smoky blue—any comments made previously, bright rose—comments and suggestions, real teal—changes or additions that need to be made.
- This editor highlighted every: was, were, had, look, looked, realized, wondered, thought, said, asked, laughed, nodded head, shook head, walked, ran, shouted, yelled, only, back, very in my manuscript regardless of context. That is not what I call editing. That is what I call using Microsoft Office’s Find feature and highlighting all the words the entire universe uses to express themselves.
Editor #4 will be referred to as I Don’t Give A Crap, or IDGAC
- Do a trial edit before committing.
- Pay per word instead of a flat rate. (Sometimes this is not an option. But try.)
- Pay half up front. Final payment upon completion.
- Go with a competent individual rather than a Big House.
- Look for professional editors who are also writers. They know the problems. (WTF was not a writer. It showed.)
- Try to find an editor who reads/likes your genre. (WTF had no idea about science fiction.) A place to look is Publishers Marketplace. Click on search members in the menu on the left. Some say try ELance. I found my illustrator on Elance. He is amazing, but I have’t tried out any of the editors on Elance. I am fearful that most of them are technical editors rather than book editors. (WTF-I found on Linkedin.)
- If you like your story, don’t sign on for a developmental edit/annotation. They will find something wrong with it, you paid them to, and so they will, no matter how good it is.
- If you go with a Big House, ask for one of their more experienced editors, one who has been with them for a fair amount of time.
- Realize that with three different editors you will get three different opinions. None of the them will agree even on the smallest grammatical glitches. Sometimes you just have to go with what feels right to you and creates prose that flows.
- Look for an editor who offers advice on plot and character development with her edit as well as correcting mechanical and grammatical errors. Look for an all in one type of editor, a general practitioner as opposed to a specialist.
FYI—Types of Edits
1. Developmental Editing (also known as annotation)
Any or all of the following:
rewriting, writing, and researching, as needed, and sometimes suggesting topics or providing information about topics for consideration of authors and client.
2. Substantive Editing
Improving a manuscript in any or all of the following ways:
- identifying and solving problems of overall clarity or accuracy
- reorganizing paragraphs, sections, or chapters to improve the order in which the text is presented
- writing or rewriting segments of text to improve readability and flow of information
- revising any or all aspects of the text to improve its presentation
- consulting with others about issues of concern
- incorporating responses to queries and suggestions creating a new draft of the document
3. Copy Editing (sometimes called line editing).
Any or all of the following:
- correcting spelling, grammar, punctuation, syntax, and word usage while preserving the meaning and voice of the original text
- checking for or imposing a consistent style and format
- preparing a style sheet that documents style and format
- reading for overall clarity and sense on behalf of the prospective audience
- querying the appropriate party about apparent errors or inconsistencies
- noting permissions needed to publish copyrighted material
- preparing a manuscript for the next stage of the publication process
- cross-checking references, art, figures, tables, equations, and other features for consistency with their mentions in the text
- comparing the latest stage of text with the preceding stage
- marking discrepancies in text
- checking for problems in page makeup, layout, color separation, or type.
Proofreading may also include one or more of the following:
- checking proof against typesetting specifications
- querying or correcting errors or inconsistencies that may have escaped an editor or writer
- reading for typographical errors or for sense without reading against copy
In my research, definitions of line and copy editing, and proofreading vary. This was the most comprehensive list I could find. Be sure to check out the definitions of the editor you select, if you are unable to find an angel who does it all.
The Science Fiction Reality blog is a little science, a little fiction, a little about writing, a little real, and a lot of weird.
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